The gang wars that left New York littered with bodies BEFORE the Mafia's Five Families ruled: How the tit-for-tat Tong wars brought bloody but well-dressed terror to Chinatown


•           The four Tong Wars started in 1900 and raged on for 25 years in New York
•           There were men armed with hatchets executing their rivals and open warfare on the streets of Chinatown
•           In Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money and Murder in New York's Chinatown Scott D Seligman gives a history of the gang-torn area
•           The On Leong Tong and the Hip Sing Tong, its bitter rival, kicked off the first war as they accused one another of criminality in the press
•           The Tongs flourished in the late 1800s as New York became more popular for Chinese immigrants, who had previously migrated to California
By DAN BATES FOR DAILYMAIL.COM

It was the bloody conflict that was omitted from the Martin Scorsese movie 'Gangs of New York'.
But the Tong Wars were as brutal as any that were dramatized in the Oscar-winning film, according to a new book.
The four Tong Wars raged on and off more than 25 years and left dozens of people dead as bodies piled up in Chinatown in Manhattan.
During the tit-for-tat killings, one of the Tongs - the Chinese word for gang - was tortured to death with meat cleavers by murderers who cut his nose off.
In another incident, gang members were shot dead and two civilians were killed during a mass execution at a theater.
And in another event, a 22-year-old white missionary was caught up in the mayhem when she was strangled by her lover in Chinatown.
The Tong Wars saw men armed with hatchets executing their rivals and open warfare on the streets of New York that corrupt police were powerless to prevent.
According to Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money and Murder in New York's Chinatown, by Scott D Seligman, the gangsters wore pinstripe suits, fedora hats and had their collars pulled up.
Their weapons of choice included a six-shot derringer and the meat cleaver.
Seligman tells for the first time how the gangs of Chinatown were as brutal as their more famous Italian or Irish counterparts.
The Tongs flourished in the late 1800s as New York became more popular for Chinese immigrants, who had previously migrated to California.
In 1870, however, California enacted laws preventing them from working on public projects and authorizing cities to relocate them outside of their boundaries.
But not even the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned further immigration from Chinese laborers for ten years and banned those in the United States from obtaining citizenship discouraged more from coming.
Chinatown developed in an area south of Canal Street in Manhattan in a neighborhood that until then had been occupied by Irish immigrants.
The Chinese lived in cramped apartments where landlords had built extra floors into high ceilinged rooms to cram in an extra set of beds.
In 1875 the New York state census recorded only 157 Chinese people in the the city. In reality, however, there were were much more, and by 1880 the New York Times estimated the real number to be at 4,500.
By that time there were an estimated 300 Chinese laundries in the city with many other Chinese working in restaurants, cigar makers and other skilled trades.
But there was also a criminal element who ran the illicit gambling parlors and opium dens, writes Seligman, a former congressional legislative assistant who is fluent in Mandarin.
The most powerful Chinese immigrant at the time was Tom Lee, who Seligman calls a 'a crafty man with no small levels of ambition' who came to America when he was 14 having been born in Guangzhou.
He was sent to New York by the Six Companies, San Francisco Chinatown's supreme governing body, a fraternal organization in the United States was an umbrella group of different agencies.
Such agencies were referred to by the name 'Tong', meaning chamber. Another word for them was 'triad', which is more commonly used today.
With the authority of the Six Companies, Tom Lee was effectively put in charge of the Chinese community in New York in the 1870s.
He was a social climber and realized the value of connections outside his community, especially at City Hall and the police department.
Tom Lee courted them with gifts, and in September 1881, he arranged a picnic on Staten Island for 50 Chinese residents and a handful of invited - and influential - guests.
He became known as the 'Mayor of Mott Street' and was the most important figure in the Chinese community.
in 1880 Tom Lee founded his new organization, the Loon Yee Tong, whose name translates as 'Chamber United in Friendship', a mixture of trade union, fraternity and advocacy group, that served as a sort of Chinese Masonic lodge.
The initiation ritual involved suspending a sword over a recruit's head as he recited 36 oaths of allegiance. His finger was pricked and a drop of blood was put into some wine which was drunk by all in the room to symbolize brotherhood.
'Loyalty and obedience were valued above all else,' Seligman writes.
By 1884 Tom Lee was thought to be running 16 gambling establishments in Little China, the precursor to Chinatown; Gamblers paid $8 per table per week with a third going to him and the rest given to the police.
Lee also made money from using his police contacts to keep cops away from opium dens or giving the owners a warning they were about to be raided.
He was also not afraid to have rivals killed if it suited him.
As Seligman writes, it was Tom Lee's other gang, the On Leong Tong, and the Hip Sing Tong, its bitter rival, that would cause the first of the Tong Wars.
The Hip Sing Tong started in San Francisco and translates as 'Chamber United in Victory'.
The organization made a fortune from smuggling people into the US for $200 a time and were also known as the 'Highbinders'.
One report from the time said they were a 'famous secret society of thugs and murderers...who haunt the dirty basements'.
While Tom Lee had always paid some of his earnings from gambling to the police and politicians, the Hip Sing Tong kept it all for themselves and were far more mercenary.
As Seligman puts it: 'The On Leongs were selling protection from the police. The Hip Sings were selling protection from themselves.'
The Hip Sings were led by Young Mock Duck, who claimed to have been born in San Francisco in 1879 but there were no records to back this up.
Seligman writes that he looked 'slim and delicate, almost girlish in demeanor' but his appearance belied how he had the 'spirit of a tiger'.
In the years to come Mock Duck achieved almost mythical status and children in Chinatown came to believe that he had supernatural powers like being able to see around corners, deflect bullets from his skin and read people's minds.
During the 1980s the On Leongs and the Hip Sings fought a PR war with both sides accusing the other of criminality through newspaper reports planted with friendly journalists.
The violence properly began on August 12, 1900, in the hallway of a tenement at 9 Pell Street when four On Leong gunmen ambushed a Hip Sing laundryman who was in Chinatown for his usual Sunday visit.
The killer, Sin Cue, and three others were arrested and soon after police learned that the plan had been to kill four Hip Sings, but the others had escaped.
The Hip Sings responded by putting a $3,000 bounty on Tom Lee's head.
Tom Lee told a friend: 'They are after me now', adding: 'Some day I go like that', with a snap of his fingers.
The Hip Sings finally got their revenge when Sin Cue visited Pell Street that September with his friend Ah Fee.
They were ambushed by six armed Hip Sings who threw pepper in their faces and beat them with an iron bar.
During the carnage the Hip Sings, including Mock Duck and henchman Sue Sing, fired a gun and a stray bullet hit a female passer by and slightly injured her two children.
Ah Fee was shot twice and died of his injuries.
Mock Duck and the four other Hip Sings were put on trial but before the case began Sin Cue, the man who would have been the prosecution's key witness, died after his home was set on fire, causing him to leap off the balcony to his death.
The blaze was started when a pan of cooking oil was left on a burner in a restaurant below - and looked extremely suspicious.
Mock Duck's first trial resulted in a hung jury but a white witness revealed they had been given a note saying that if they gave evidence they would 'die to-day'.
It read: 'Pepper in your eyes and bullet in your heart. You no go alive...best thing you die so you make no more witness for Chinese.'
The note was signed, 'One, Two, Three', which appears to have been a Tong-related code.
Mock Duck would appear before judges dozens of times after this but on each occasion the police could never make the charges stick
In November 1904 he survived an assassination attempt when he was shot twice as he came up some steps from the basement of 18 Pell Street.
Mock Duck's assailant, an On Leong called Lee Sing, calmly walked toward him from over the road and opened fire at close range.
The second bullet grazed him and the first lodged in his stomach having bounced off his belt, a deflection which saved his life.
Police later learned that there had been a secret meeting of the On Leong Tong in which lots were drawn to see who would kill Mock Duck.
By this stage the press began to call the fight a 'Tong War' for the first time.
The New York World newspaper said it was 'quite as deadly as the Italian Mafia or the Black Hand'.
Later that month, after Mock Duck was released from hospital, the two Tongs exchanged gunfire in what the New York Sun called a 'regular highbinder six-shooter war dance on the Bowery' .
Police recovered battle gear from the Hip Sings which included four coats of armor including one vest made of steel rings woven together which was resistant to bullets - which caused deep alarm among law enforcement.
Innocent bystander John Baldwin, a white man who was drinking at a saloon on the Bowery was shot and died of his injuries.
This sparked an unprecedented level of attention from the city and police, so both Tongs turned to means other than violence to disrupt the other.
Over Christmas two On Leongs posed as out of town laundrymen and lured 15 Hip Sings to a gambling den - then reported them to the police.
When the officers arrived the On Leongs pulled an iron ring which opened a trap door in the floor, sending all the Hip Sings plunging into two feet of water below.
The cops eventually got in and arrested them all.
In January 1905 the next body fell - this time another Hip Sing.
Huie Fong was ambushed on Mott Street by a man who blasted three shots at him from close range.
According to a newspaper report, a police detective who was two doors away rushed to the scene and found Huie Fong 'flapping like a landed trout' which blood gushing from the two holes in his chest.
Soon after the On Leongs declared that for every time one of their properties was raided based on a tip from the Hip Sings 'there would be another dead Hip Sing'.
The Hip Sings responded by putting up red signs reminding people of the $3,000 bounty on Tom Lee's head.
The On Leongs retaliated by crushing the skull of Ching Gon, a Hip Sing who had moved out of Chinatown. He died of his injuries.
The Hip Sings' response was to shoot dead Lee Yu, a senior On Leong and one of Tom Lee's cousins.
Seligman writes that this left the Hip Sings 'jubilant' as they thought they finally had the better of their rivals.
What proved to be a 'watershed' moment in the war was the massacre at the Chinese Theater on Doyers Street.
The slaughter was shocking because it happened on what was considered neutral ground where On Leongs and Hip Sings could go and enjoy a play without the fear of violence.
On August 6, 1905, several Hip Sing men entered the theater during a performance of a Cantonese drama called 'The King's Daughter' and threw firecrackers on stage, causing the actors to flee.
During the chaos they opened fire and executed four On Leongs in a hail of more than 100 bullets that shattered windows and split benches.
Two civilians also died, showing that Chinatown was not safe for outsiders, including whites.
There were two who did it get away, though. The first was Sing Dock, who was known as the 'Scientific Killer' due to his forensic approach to murder. The other was Yee Toy, known as 'Girl Face' for his effeminate features.
The On Leongs did not even wait a week before seeking revenge and set upon Hop Lee, a laundryman who was a Hip Sing and friend of Mock Duck, with a meat cleaver.
Seligman writes: 'Hop had been asleep, police said later said, when five On Leongs forced his door, dragged him from his bed and stretched him out.
'They might have killed him with one blow but instead chose torture. The man wielding the cleaver delivered repeated blows to his body and his head. And in an act of pitiless savagery, he severed Hop Lee's nose from his face'.
Hop Lee lived long enough to identify two of his attackers.
As Seligman points out, New Yorkers had lived through gang wars before and knew one when they saw it.
The national press also took note and that theater massacre sparked endless features about how New York was in the midst of a crime wave.
Also among those becoming anxious was Shah Kai-Fu, the Chinese consul general in the US, who paid a call to the New York District Attorney to ask him to stop the warfare.
During the coroner's inquest into the Chinese Theater massacre, Mock Duck gave evidence and claimed that he was nowhere near the property on the night.
Witnesses said they saw him there - he was arrested but posted bail and no charges were eventually brought.
A ceasefire signed in 1906 by both Tongs lasted three years until the most high-profile murder of all happened.
In 1909 the killing of Elsie Sigel, a 22-year-old white missionary, stopped most whites from going to Chinatown and once again changed how the city saw the Tong Wars.
Sigel was the granddaughter of a Civil War hero and was strangled with a curtain cord and dumped in a trunk above a chop suey restaurant.
Her decaying remains were found a week later.
The murder was said to be a crime of passion reportedly committed by a Chinese waiter called Leon Ling, with whom she had been having an affair against her parents' wishes - he was never apprehended.
That year, as Chinatown business struggled with 70 per cent less visitors than before, the conflict among the Tongs escalated over the murder of Bow Kum, a 21-year-old Chinese woman.
She was found in her bed having been slashed across her torso and gored twice in her heart with a 7-inch hunting knife.
She had fled enslavement in San Francisco to Lau Tong, a known murderer who was in the Four Brothers, another gang.
When Lau Tong heard she was in New York he confronted Chin Lem, an On Leong laundryman and her new lover, but he refused to pay $3,000 for her and would not hand her back. The details of the crime remain unsolved.
Seligman says that the killing led to an 'out-and-out war' between the Four Brothers and the On Leongs that broke out in September 1909 when a Four Brothers laundryman was shot outside the On Leong head office.
During the carnage two Four Brothers men in their 70s were shot dead in a room on Pell Street.
Next to die was Ah Hoon, a comic and an On Leong supporter who had in the past mocked the Hip Sings.
He was gunned down despite having a police escort as he feared for his life.
The killers waited until he was home and shot him as he left his front door to wash himself at the washstand across the hall.
The violence lasted until 1911 and saw The Hip Sing aligned with the Four Brothers to take down the On Leongs, their old adversary.
A raid of an opium den on Seventh Avenue led officers to find letters that revealed a massive opium ring throughout major cities, which led the FBI to investigate.
The Third Tong War erupted in 1912, and by 1913 many of the gambling and opium dens were shut down, but that was not the end of the Tong Wars.
A fourth in 1925 when Chin Jack Lem, a senior On Leong, defected to the Hip Sings.
Shortly after a Hip Sing laundryman was shot dead in Brooklyn and in the days after there were similar reports of violence in Chinese communities in Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee.
In New York, a 30-year-old On Leong and a 64-year-old On Leong were butchered; the latter had nearly been decapitated and his body was covered with 14 slash marks.
Fearing a return to the bloodshed of the early 20th Century Joab Banton, the New York County District Attorney, called in the federal government to start an unprecedented crackdown on Chinese immigrants.
During raids carried out over the next week or so, they arrested anyone who looked Chinese with little regard for their rights.
The crackdown worked and finally brought an end to the Tong Wars.
As Seligman writes: 'No other immigrant group had ever been targeted the way the authorities were going after the Chinese.
'Italian and Irish émigrés had fought their share of brutal gang wars, but nobody had ever rounded them up for wholesale expulsion.
'Yet this time, the government was acting as if the only way to bring peace to Chinatown were to get rid of its Chinese, through whatever means necessary.'